Prison Plumbing Retrofit Captures Savings

  June 9, 2014

Every retrofit project has its own quirks and challenges because no two institutional or commercial facilities are the same, after all. But an update of the plumbing system at the Main Adult Detention Facility in Santa Rosa, Calif., presented an array of challenges — not the least of which was its 700 or so inmates — that many maintenance and engineering managers are glad they do not face.

Despite this array of challenges, Sonoma County in 2009 undertook a retrofit designed to curtail the county's overall water use by installing plumbing controls on the facility's sinks and toilets in order to minimize inmate abuse of plumbing fixtures.

In addition to its imprisoned population, the 30-year-old detention facility features a challenge that most facilities do not — a sink and toilet in each room. Each fixture presents an opportunity for an inmate to cause problems for managers and technicians.

"Typically, in the detention environment, you tend to have a lot of things flushed down the toilet that shouldn't be going down there," says Steve Bartlett, maintenance program manager for Sonoma County, referring to such items as sheets, clothing, and contraband. "From a maintenance standpoint, we had to put bolts in a lot of the drain plumbing to catch things. We thought that in addition to water savings, (the retrofit) would help us control what was going down the drains."

Bartlett says he has been more than pleased with the results of the retrofit. A June 2006 meter reading showed that the facility had been using 116 gallons per person per day.

"As we moved through the project, the numbers start coming down," he says, adding that current readings show the savings are around 16.8 million gallons per year. "As of 4/30/2014, the inmate population was around 710, and the meter reading was 50 gallons per day. It has gotten as low as the low 40s.

"It's astounding because that's water that doesn't have to be pulled out of the aquifers, it doesn't have to get pumped, and it doesn't go down the sewer lines. Out of all of our energy-saving methods, this was probably the most successful one. We ended up doing (the same retrofit) to our juvenile hall, as well, after this project."


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